This past November, Susan and I enjoyed a trip to Fiji and New Zealand. Our trip was slated for 2020, but due to the pandemic it got pushed multiple times. Fortunately by November 2022, our trip with a large group of business associates and friends finally happened.
It didn’t take long for us to immediately fall in love with the Fijian people. Such engaging smiles and warm spirits they captured our hearts upon arrival. We enjoyed many activities including snorkeling, river rafting, kayaking, and an ATV adventure. We also attended Sunday church services with a local ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Of our 10 days in Fiji, one day stands out above the rest. Through significant effort and no doubt providential guidance, our group found a village deep in the jungle on the Sigatoka River that needed our humanitarian help. What an amazing experience awaited us.
Our time up the Sigatoka River proved to be a lasting emotional experience. We traveled by boat for several miles to reach our final destination. The views were incredible and the local’s welcome was heartwarming. We docked the boats and hiked up a densely wooded riverbank to a remote village. We met some of the villagers and took a tour of their church building. As a group, we quietly sat in their pews and experienced a peaceful spirit in their sanctuary.
Shortly after our arrival we were welcomed by the village elders who treated us to a unique Cava ceremony. Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious lunch hosted by the locals. Then we were off to work traveling down the road to a village school which desperately needed our help (ie. painting, refurnishing desks, and other repairs, etc.). When 60+ of us arrived, we were greeted in song by over 100 children. Their music and loving harmony brought tears to our eyes.
My mind and heart went immediately back to the Philippines of 40 years ago where I served as a missionary for two years. It all felt and looked the same to me. Yes, a different island, but the same humble, loving people amidst a tropical backdrop of God’s creations. They were so gracious, and we were happy to be there!
Equally satisfying was watching Susan react to the experience. She was deeply touched by the children and our service that day. Together, we shared a memorable day. Isn’t it interesting how when you serve others you leave feeling like the one being served?
The work was fun! We painted the school’s front expansive porch, sanded and refinished many student desks, and constructed needed school benches. As the work was completed, we gathered back together and shared songs with each other. Leaving tugged at our hearts as we looked back to see them all waving and saying their goodbyes. It’s a memory that still lingers as we think about our time in Fiji.
I love the quote by Dieter F. Uchtdorf who said, “As we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our lives and our own happiness.” We certainly enjoyed many wonderful activities and playful fun on our trip to Fiji, but our experience of serving others up the Sigatoka River stands out as our best memory.